3 Ways ChiRunning Helps Battle Depression

This post has taken me several months to write mostly because there is so much information to digest and I am having a hard time determining how to form my thoughts.  I wrote a draft about what ChiRunning is and how it helps prevent injury, but it just didn’t feel right.  So I shelved it and thought about it some more. 

Then it occurred to me.  What matters the most in my world is how ChiRunning has helped my depression.   

It started in April when I attended my first ChiRunning clinic with Lisa Pozzoni of The Running University.  Then picked up momentum when I took Kenny to a ChiRunning clinic for our anniversary.  Pause…what is ChiRunning you say?  

ChiRunning is a form of running that integrates principles of TaiChi.  This unique approach results in running naturally and injury free. The mission of ChiRunning is to help people “Love Running Forever”.  You can learn more about how to practice ChiRunning by checking out the various books and videos here, or better yet take a workshop from a local certified instructor.

As you learn about ChiRunning and practice, you will find that there are common issues that most runners have to some degree.

Heel Striking – Leading with the legs rather than upper body results in landing on the heels, essentially putting on the breaks with every running step.  Not only does this slow a runner down, it also sends a jarring impact up the leg.  Shortening the stride and landing with the feet underneath the body prevents this jarring impact.  

Low Cadence – Ideal cadence is 170-180 steps per minutes yet most people run closer to 160 or 165 steps per minute.  This causes a runner’s feet to stay on the ground too long.  The longer the feet are on the ground the more energy goes into getting it back off the ground rather than forward motion.  

Arm Swing – Arms should act as a pendulum and swing forward and backward with a 90 degree angle at the elbow.   Many runners however twist back and forth from the shoulders, wasting energy in the side to side motion.  Not only does this take energy away from forward momentum, it can lead to tension in the neck and shoulders.

ChiRunning provides solutions to these common issues which helps eliminate and prevent injuries.  It also teaches a runner how to listen to the body and connect with the energy within.  As I have deepened my ChiRunning practice I have addressed these issues in myself.  And as it begins to feel more and more natural, I have started to feel a flow to my running that is quite beautiful.   It is within this flow that ChiRunning has become a powerful tool in my arsenal when battling my depression.  

THREE MAJOR WAYS CHIRUNNING HELPS MY DEPRESSION:

Deeper Connection With My Body – Chi Running teaches Body Sensing as a technique to check-in with the body and assess form.  As I have been practicing Body Sensing, I have become more in tune with how my body is feeling.  At first, I was worried that body sensing would cause me to get so wrapped up in my discomfort that my running would no longer be enjoyable.  What I have found instead is that when I identify discomfort, I can adjust my form to alleviate it.  More often than not, I am finding that I am identifying strengths I didn’t always realize I had.  Rather than thoughts of, “My legs are so tired” or “my breathing is so labored”, I catch myself thinking, “I feel strong and powerful” and “I feel like I am floating over the ground”.  The more frequently I talk positively to myself the easier it is to allow depressive thoughts to flow past and pull myself back to a positive place.

Flowing Energy – Much of ChiRunning is about body alignment and smooth flowing movement.  Visualize a needle stuck through cotton.  The core of the body is the needle, strong and firm and tall.  Rather than getting stuck within inefficient motions, the body flows around this needle, gently along for the ride.  On an energetic level, blockages to free flowing energy can cause ailments of the body and mind, while free flowing energy can alleviate them.  My depression is easier to manage when energy is moving freely throughout my body.

Consistency – One of the main objectives of ChiRunning is to run injury free.  One of the greatest medicines for my depression is running.  Running injury free allows me to be able to run consistently, allowing for that daily dose of medicine that I so desperately need.  I have learned that 5 days a week is necessary for my mental well-being.   Injuries lead to missed runs which leads to withdraw which leads to long hours in bed on the verge of tears.  ChiRunning is like an insurance policy against missed days.

Running has saved me from despair on many occasions.  ChiRunning has strengthened my running and by association, strengthened my ability to battle depression.  With running, and specifically ChiRunning, the journey continues……

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Finding Progress Not Perfection…An Update on HR Monitor Training

As a recreational middle of the pack runner, I often question the validity of my running.  Am I a real runner if I am not super fast?  Lots struggle with this question and my answer to anyone else  – “Of course you are a runner no matter how fast or how slow!!”

To myself I am less kind.  I second guess my “runner” status all the time.  I compare myself to others who are stronger and faster.  If I miss a run then I must not be a “real runner” cause “real runners” never miss a workout.  Oh the things this brain will do to bring me down.

Irony is, while not fast, I am not slow either.  I have run times that I am proud of, especially given my lack of natural running talent.  My Personal Records (PRs) are all hard won after lots of dedicated work.

My 5K PR is a 24:22, run in 2009 at the Medved 5K to Cure ALS in Rochester, NY.  While I haven’t beaten that time since, my last 5K on April 22, 2017, just 2 shorts weeks after completing the Whiskey Basin 57K and in 100+degree weather, I ran a 25:39.  This isn’t too shabby considering ultra training involves little speed work and heat is notorious for slowing a person down.  With some focused speed work, I feel confident I could break my PR.

Never before have I been able to break the 2 hour mark for the half.  I came close with a 2:00:29 half in 2011.  At last broke 2 hours at the San Diego Half Marathon on June 4, 2017.  I felt on top of the world with my running identify after this accomplishment.

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Capturing the moment after setting a PR for the half marathon (June 2017)

Two weeks later, I began my HR journey.  Running within my HR zone these last several months messed with me mentally because I had to slow down so very much.  Choosing to run slower left me once again struggling with my identify as a runner.  I had to put aside ego and focus on the goal I was trying to achieve.  Definitely not easy, though anything worth obtaining should not be easy.

Being able to focus on my goal, my end game, the truth of the science behind running slowly, was a key part of sticking with the training plan I had laid out.  Accounts from others who have tried this method seemed to see results anywhere from a month to six months.  I desperately wanted to see results to validate this decision.

My hope was to be able to see those results in how I ran the McKenzie River Trail Run (50K).  Alas this hope was dashed when raging fires in Oregon threatened the race course and the race directors had to make the difficult choice to cancel the race.  What a grand disappointment to me and to my training.   This sent me into a bit of a tailspin with my running.

After coming home from our waylaid trip to Oregon, I had a whirlwind of activity at work keeping me occupied and focused on everything but the status my running.  Eventually I was able to pull out of the tornado that had become my life and check in again with how my progress was coming along.

Not seeing immediate progress was definitely a challenge through the many months.  But I knew that this was a long game.  So I did a “test run” in which I ran my baseline 5 mile loop and compared to another baseline run that I did at the beginning of this adventure.

Much to my surprise, my pace had increased substantionally!

My first baseline run in the middle of June was done early in the morning.  During this run, I did a simple loop near my house.  I warmed up for a mile, then began my tracking for the next three miles, leaving the final mile for cool-down.  I did an average of an 11:48 per mile with an average heart rate of 151 bpm.  After just averaging 8:53 per mile for 13.4 miles, the idea of slowing to an almost 12 minute mile for a short 3 miles run  was difficult to swallow.  And this slow down only grew greater as the temperatures rose, the miles compiled, and the hours added onto each other.

Upon doing my check-in run after the disappointment of my cancelled 50K, I mimicked the same route at the same time of day.  The only thing I couldn’t keep consistent was the temperature, but by running at 5:30 am, I was able to keep the temperature for both runs to a minimal factor in the results.  I went on the run expecting to see little improvement while simultaneously hoping to see low 10 minute miles.  Wanting it all, expecting nothing.  Neither proved to be reality.

My new baseline was a 11:03 per mile, though this was run at the much lower average heart rate of 144 bpm.  If I had aimed to maintain my heart rate closer to the top of my aerobic zone (151 bpm), I would not be surprised if I wouldn’t have been 15 seconds per mile faster.  This is a theory I will put to the test soon.

So I have not gained perfection.  Ideally I would be running that half marathon pace of 8:53 per mile at an aerobic heart rate.  Maybe one day I will, but for now I will gladly take the progress.

As the months continue, I plan to adjust my running some.  Closer to 80% of my runs in the aerobic zone, rather than 100%.  If nothing else, this gives me a chance to just go out and enjoy the run without a care in the world.  This will be a welcome change.  But after seeing these results, I plan to continue to incorporate aerobic training into my regime.

The journey continues……..

PS – Check out my Upcoming Races….I recently made some changes to my plans you can check out here!